Preparing to Add a Second Child to the Family
By Anna Keller, curiouser & curiouser
We’re on the cusp of adding a second child to our family (baby number two is due on Valentine’s Day), and so I’ve been giving lots of thought to how to best prepare my 3.5-year-old daughter to become a big sister. I’ve also been giving lots of thought to how to best prepare myself and our family as a whole to expand from three to four. After all, I know the transition will be full of love and wonder, but also growing pains and frustration. I don’t have first-hand experience yet on this topic, but I do have some tips on adding a second child to the family to share based on others’ experiences I’ve read about. So, let’s dig into those today, shall we? (And if you already have two kiddos and have advice on the birth of a second child, I’m all ears!)
Take Transitions Slowly
I’ve already learned this from experience, actually, even though our second child hasn’t even arrived yet. We’ll be moving my daughter’s bedroom and making her current room (which is right next to ours) her baby brother’s nursery. I first started talking about her moving to a new room very early on in my pregnancy, and that conversation did not go well. She was hesitant to change, and I quickly realized that was something we’d have to wait a while on and ease into. I brought it up again a couple of months later and tried to be more gentle – as well as excited – about it, and that time it was well-received (mostly).
Try to Set Authentic Expectations
Of course, as you prepare for the birth of a second child, it’s important to help your toddler look forward to the new addition. Talk often about ways they can help as the big sibling, and about all the fun things they’ll be able to do when you become a two-child family. But don’t neglect to mention the not-so-fun realities of having a baby in the house. Make sure your toddler knows the new baby will cry often; they wake up many times during the night; they’ll take up lots of Mom and Dad’s attention just because they can’t do anything for themselves yet; their diapers can be stinky; etc. That way, it will (hopefully) lessen the blow when the second child comes home and isn’t quite like the baby dolls their older sibling might have in mind!
Be Open to Your Toddler’s Questions and Feelings
Encourage your older child to ask lots of questions about what to expect during pregnancy and after the baby comes. Also, work to get your older child to talk about any feelings they have related to the new baby. Make sure they know it’s okay to be excited but that it’s also okay to be a little scared of what life will look like when you become a two-child family. Answering their questions and providing acknowledgement of their feelings will help them know they can be open to share, which will come in handy once the new baby arrives, too.
Be Very Clear with Your Toddler on What to Expect During the Birth of Your Second Child
If you’ll be going to a hospital to have your second child and leaving your older child with a friend, neighbor, or relative, be sure your toddler is well-aware of the game plan. Tell them about what to expect, where they’ll be, where Mom and Dad will be, and a rough estimate of when you’ll be home with the new baby. You might even want to help your toddler pack a bag for themselves just like you’ll be packing a hospital bag, making it an adventure for the whole family. You can also put together some small gifts or treats for your older child to open and enjoy while you’re away.
Read, Read, Read
There are lots of wonderful books available that help a toddler prepare to be a big sibling, so take advantage of those. There are books about the role of a big brother or big sister, and there are also ones that dig into baby’s development, birth, etc., in an age-appropriate way. At our house, we’ve loved reading these books over the past few months, and our daughter appreciates learning more about what’s going on in Mom’s belly as well as all the helpful and fun things she’ll get to do as a big sister.
Help Your Toddler Welcome Your Second Child into Your Home with a Special Gift (And Have the New Baby “Reciprocate”)
In the months or weeks leading up to your second child’s birth, help your older child find a gift to share with the new baby when they come home. It can be a special stuffed animal (that’s what we’ll be doing at our house to welcome the new baby), for example, but make sure your toddler feels proud of the gift. It can also be a good idea to have a gift from the new baby to gift to the older sibling!
Prepare Your Toddler for New Routines When You Become a Two-Child Family
If your toddler has a chore or responsibility chart, consider adding something new baby-related to their list. It can be something simple like “help Mom or Dad change baby’s diapers” or “be kind to the new baby,” but it will give your child a clear role for them to be responsible for when you welcome a new baby.
Don’t Be Surprised If Your Toddler Regresses Upon the Birth of a Second Child
This is one I’m bracing myself for, and I feel like it’s inevitable, at least in some form. In fact, I remember regressing as a 3-year-old when my younger sister was born three decades ago! Potty-trained kiddos might start having accidents again. Your toddler might start rejecting a sippy cup and insisting on drinking from a bottle. They may resort to crying more or babbling like a baby instead of speaking clearly. Remember that this is normal, and be quick to praise big kid behavior when you see it.
As your family expands, so will your responsibilities, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Do what you can to prepare your family for the new baby, but also be sure to reach out for help and support. The most important thing both your first baby and your second baby needs is a loving, caring mom. It takes a village to make a village.